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07 May 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Noko Masalesa
Noko Masalesa, Director of Protection Services, in conversation with students and stakeholders to plan a safe way forward.

Safety and security are human rights that constitute social justice. At the centre of the agenda at the University of the Free State’s (UFS) Social Justice Week held on the Bloemfontein Campus from 17-22 April 2019 were discussions about off-campus safety. Stakeholders agreed on an upgrade to security measures in order to ensure the success and wellbeing of the student population.

A call to students

Prof John Mubangizi, Dean of the Faculty of Law, in his capacity as representative of the UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, Prof Francis Petersen, expressed his view on institutions of higher learning no longer functioning as ivory towers. “For any initiative to succeed, collaboration is necessary between key roleplayers,” he said.

He aptly pointed out that: “We cannot underscore the importance of safety and security, not only for the university but also for the communities around us. What the university does benefits the community and vice versa. I pledge the university’s commitment to play a leading part to ensure that the collaboration works,” said Prof Mubangizi.

Beefing up security: Who is involved?

In view of the collaborative effort Prof Mubangizi alluded to, the engagement was twofold. First was the roundtable discussion facilitated by Protection Services which then escalated into a public dialogue where students had the opportunity to interact with external delegates.

The South African Police Services, Community Police Forum, Private Security, Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality, Provincial Commissioner, and Deputy Minister of Police were well represented in this critical conversation. Internally, members of Protection Services, Housing and Residence Affairs, Student Affairs, Institute for Social Justice and Reconciliation, Student Representative Council, and the Department of Criminology heard the plight of off-campus safety faced by students.

Changes in the horizon

The discussions culminated with recommendations which will see the future of student safety take a different direction. According to Skhululekile Luwaca, former SRC president, these include “the municipality’s commitment to immediately address issues such as street lights and enforcing by-laws, ensuring an integrated accreditation system, and drafting a policy for off-campus accommodation, running more crime awareness campaigns, and giving police patrols more visibility.”

In addition to resolving to set up a student safety forum with all the stakeholders, the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has invited the UFS to join Reclaim the City – a safety forum where practical solutions to crime are devised and implemented on a weekly basis.


News Archive

#Women'sMonth: Save the children
2017-08-10

Description: Trudi O'Neill Tags: : rotaviruses, young children, Dr Trudi O’Neill, Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology, vaccine 

Dr Trudi O’Neill, Senior lecturer in the Department of
Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology.
Photo: Anja Aucamp

Dr Trudi O’Neill, Senior lecturer in the Department of Microbial, Biochemical and Food Biotechnology, is conducting research on rotavirus vaccines.

Dr O’Neill was inspired to conduct research on this issue through her fascination with the virus. “The biology of rotaviruses, especially the genome structure and the virus’ interaction with the host, is fascinating.”

“In fact, it is estimated that, globally, ALL children will be infected with rotavirus before the age of five, irrespective of their socio-economic standing. However, infants and young children in poor countries are more vulnerable due to inadequate healthcare. The WHO estimates that approximately 215 000 deaths occur each year. This roughly equates to eight Airbus A380 planes, the largest commercial carrier with a capacity of approximately 500 seats, filled with only children under the age of five, crashing each week of every year.”

Alternative to expensive medicines 
“Currently, there are two vaccines that have been licensed for global use. However, these vaccines are expensive and poor countries, where the need is the greatest, are struggling to introduce them sustainably. It is therefore appealing to study rotaviruses, as it is scientifically challenging, but could at the same time have an impact on child health,” Dr O’Neill said.

The main focus of Dr O’Neill’s research is to develop a more affordable vaccine that can promote child vaccination in countries/areas that cannot afford the current vaccines.

All about a different approach 

When asked about the most profound finding of her research, Dr O’Neill responded: “It is not so much a finding, but rather the approach. My rotavirus research group is making use of yeast as vehicle to produce a sub-unit vaccine. These microbes are attractive, as they are relatively easy to manipulate and cheap to cultivate. Downstream production costs can therefore be reduced. The system we use was developed by my colleagues, Profs Koos Albertyn and Martie Smit, and allows for the potential use of any yeast. This enables us to screen a vast number of yeasts in order to identify the best yeast producer.”

Vaccination recently acquired a bad name in the media for its adverse side effects. As researcher, Dr O’Neill has this to say: “Vaccines save lives. By vaccinating your child, you don’t just protect your own child from a potentially deadly infection, but also other children in your community that might be too young to be vaccinated or have pre-existing health problems that prevents vaccination.” 

A future without rotavirus vaccination?

Dr O’Neill believes a future without rotavirus vaccination will be a major step backwards, as the impact of rotavirus vaccines has been profound. “Studies in Mexico and Malawi actually show a reduction in deaths. A colleague in Mozambique has commented on the empty hospital beds that amazed both clinicians and scientists only one year after the introduction of the vaccine in that country. Although many parents, mostly in developed countries, don’t have to fear dehydrating diarrhoea and potential hospitalisation of their babies due to rotavirus infection anymore, such an infection could still be a death sentence in countries that have not been able to introduce the vaccine in their national vaccination programmes,” she said. 

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